George Iype


It is as if senior police officials I met in Bangalore and Madras had a premonition about it. Things had been pretty quiet on the Veerappan front, they felt, and it was time for him to do something.

Whenever they talked about the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Tamil Nadu, they used to say the reign of terror that Veerappan could unleash was much bigger. They were more worried about the sandalwood smuggler than the Inter-Services Intelligence and its Pakistan-trained militants, they told me.

It was not based on intelligence reports but purely happenstance that a police officer said: "You know, it is more than two years since Veerappan made news. We hope to hear from him soon."

A police inspector who was part of the Special Task Force that combed forests of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka for the elusive outlaw spoke about the "great time" he had on the hunt.

"We knew we would never catch Veerappan," he said. "So we enjoyed our stay thoroughly."

He went on to add that he and his colleagues "tremendously enjoyed the local booze, local women and ganja" that were in good supply in the hills.

Police officials claim that they are quite capable of nabbing the dreaded criminal -- provided there's some co-ordination between the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka governments.

"When the Tamil Nadu police try to apprehend the poacher, he escapes into the jungles of Karnataka and vice versa," sighed a senior IPS officer.

The governments of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have burnt a heck of a lot of money hunting Veerappan. According to official figures, they have spent Rs 45.4 million and Rs 74.6 million, respectively.

Environmentalists say that sandalwood trees are endangered in the country thanks largely to Veerappan.

Sandalwood is primarily grown in the Deccan plateau that straddles Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Of the 9,000 kilometres over which sandalwood is distributed in India, 8,200 kilometres lie in these two southern Indian states.

Sensing a serious threat to the tree that is today protected, forest and police officials launched the biggest-ever manhunt for Veerappan in May 1993. Nearly 900 Border Security Force personnel combed the deep jungles of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka for days.

But Veerapan continues to walk free, cheating the country of sandalwood worth millions of rupees - and occasionally kidnapping someone.

A few years ago, more than 80 per cent sandalwood leaving Karnataka was smuggled, mostly by Veerappan and his gang.

Before entering the lucrative sandalwood trade, Veerappan's target was elephants. According to the Tamil Nadu police, he killed his first elephant at age 14.

There are no official figures on how many he has killed since then. Veerappan's claim is 2,000. Which the police say is untrue, though they agree that he must have killed "at least 1000 elephants".

Elephants were not the only ones that Veerappan killed. He killed policemen too, whenever he got a chance -- and it is this that has made him such a dreaded name.

His first big assault on security forces was in April 1993. He lured them into an ambush and blew them up with landmines. In the last two decades, he has killed some 120 people. This includes policemen, forest officers and villagers.

Veerappan keeps moving in the 7,500-km jungles of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. He reportedly has 70 hideouts.

For hundreds of poor villagers in the jungles, Veerappan is a saviour for many reasons. He pays Rs 10 a day to a villager who locates sandalwood for him, and Rs 25 to any villager who cuts a tree.

Considering that the governments of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have spent little on the social and economic welfare of the villagers, Veerappan's cash allowance is very attractive. Then again, the villagers are too frightened to disobey him.

Former Karnataka Chief Minister J H Patel had once pledged: "I will ensure that he never enters Karnataka again."

But that promise wasn't kept. Veerappan entered the state and held 17 tourists and seven forest officials hostage in October, 1997. Luckily that blew over.

Today's crisis, Karnataka idol Rajakumar's kidnapping, is the first one that the new Chief Minister S M Krishna is facing from Veerappan.

Senior Associate Editor George Iype wouldn't mind a one-on-one with Veerappan.

Tell us what you think of this diary